Literature

Modernity & Great Religious Fiction

But I don’t believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one. — Flannery O’Connor

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A volume of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry rests on my ironing board next to a few wrinkled sewing projects.  I’m more likely to read than sew. Heck, I’m more likely to read than iron. But this peaceful still life exudes domestic leisure. My life is filled with such scenes. With no outside commitments, I am blessed with time at home.

My husband and I have sacrificed much for such a life. We manage with one car, my husband attends night school to advance his career, works long hours, often travels for work and we adhere to a strict budget to make ends meet, every penny counts.

But such domestic settings remind me of the leisure I have been given, unstructured time for me and my children to enjoy. Time that I must manage wisely. They are simple scenes: I look to my nightstand and see my rosary draping my journal and copy of Jane Keyon’s Constance  with glass beads and atop my husband’s dresser rest his keys and monogrammed tie clip (I had engraved for his birthday) next to the unpaid bills. These details are home and all its pleasures and hardships. They encompass a much greater movement – they are microcosms and they relate the full truth of the macrocosm.

Such microcosms are seen in nature. When you look at a maple leaf, you see the tree in all its splendor. The tree’s glory is stamped on it right down to its tiny veins and stem.

In Literature, such details make a novel or poem. When you read a line of good poetry or a sentence in a great novel the details carry it,  give life to the whole work. And I find such peace in these domesticities  because they  reveal a greater movement: my husband’s love for our family, my love for our children  – God’s love for us. 

You’re not writing a great tragic novel. You’re designing places for people to live

The original article found here:

Architecture is not the place to work through our collective guilt. Leave that to the poets and artists, says Leon Krier

Let’s imagine that Antoni Gaudi had not just designed the Casa Mila but the entire urban block of which the building forms a corner. If that doesn’t do it, assume that he designed every single block of Barcelona central and suburban, including all churches, schools, villas, factories, railway stations, airports, bridges and parks and, keeping the momentum, every single town and village of Catalonia, of Spain, of continental Europe, of the entire world, including the furnishings, tools and vehicles therein, private and public.

If you don’t shudder at the thought, replace the Catalan “master” by any of the recognised “modern masters”, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Gropius, the current star architects and weigh the consequences.

Change of scene.

Viewed from a certain distance and under good light, an ugly, dysfunctional city may appear like a promised land. I had this experience overflying at high altitude Novosibirsk, the desolate capital of Siberia, the sun rising over a frozen urban abstraction, a Soviet version of the Charter of Athens.

It is common knowledge that the atomic mushroom, rising over Hiroshima, was a revelation of immense beauty for American bomber pilots. It follows that, by holding the appropriate distance, a cruel spectacle can be appreciated, independently of its moral implications. Observing pointedly portrayed human suffering in plays and films we experience aesthetic pleasure. In literature, distance and detachment allow us to appreciate tragedy.

In architecture no valid aesthetic experience can exist without proximity, without the closeness to masses and details, without our experiencing the constructed artefact from without and from within. The intimacy of the inhabitant with his home, of the citizen with the city has to exclude all dominance of the tragic and the catastrophic from architecture and urban design. While this may appear self-evident, there is today a tendency in design that confuses literature and architecture. By means of unbalanced and disruptive plastic violence, arbitrarily reducing innovation to form rupture, this trend professes to express the tragedy of our times through architecture.

For its champions, the memory of the unprecedented Holocaust crime must impregnate all architectural design and, as a consequence, architecture must be in mourning and revolt. In my opinion, this attitude is understandable but unsustainable for, if the proposition were true, it would not merely concern architecture but would have to deconstruct all artistic and technical cultures, languages, object design, industry, agriculture, education, services etc.

We are dealing with an absurd mind-set that confuses the objective and the subjective, the means and ends of culture, technology and morality, or more simply of memory and remembrance, mixing up conscience and emotion.

It fails consequently to grasp the diverging means of literature and architecture. It confuses the roles of the reader-spectator and the actor-inhabitant. We cannot inhabit tragedy without being overwhelmed by pain, and we cannot be passive witnesses of architecture that aggresses and horrifies us.

Franco Purini, proposing a 1000m long and 500m high slab building for central Rome pontificates that “L’architettura deve far’ male” – “architecture must hurt”. Hurt who and why is the question, especially when the architect lives, works and teaches in a beautiful quarter of the capital.

For architectural design, memory is neither moral precept nor obligation; it is not an archive of deadly testimony; it is on the contrary an instrument of knowledge and know-how; it represents an inexhaustible inventory of practical and aesthetic solutions and techniques that respond to the recurring problems of building structures and places; it is the treasure house of the art of building.

Comps

During comps our prof. picked a poem we were not familiar with for us to explicate. The name of the poet was not given. He wanted the poem to speak for itself. My poem was “Mint” I don’t remember what on earth I wrote.  I  was too preoccupied with worry  to write anything worthwhile. I do remember being distressed because I knew nothing of nettles and thought it an important detail. But I never forgot the poem which was probably the point.

“MINT”
It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

Anna Akhmatova: Half-Nun, Half- Harlot

Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet's, majestic profile. "...Not touched by single of all glorifications, ~   Forgetful of the sins’ existing host, ~   Bend o’er our sleepless bed-heads, with dark passion, ~   She murmurs verses, desperate and cursed." - excerpt from her poem, 'And the Last', 1963:

Anna Akhmataova was a Russian poetess who wrote many of her poems under the Soviet Regime. She  was a wife and mother although had many failed marriages (four in all I believe) and even more love affairs. She also, thought herself unfit for motherhood. Despite (or perhaps because of?) her failed marriages she captures the masculine and feminine natures rather well. She was well known for her poems but to make a living she relied on translating which she called an act of “eating one’s own brain.” She was described in a literary magazine once as “a frantic fine lady flitting between the boudoir and the chapel. . . half-nun, half- harlot.” and while this comment was meant to denounce her and her writings, I think it a fitting description of her poetry.

"...Your sorrow, unperceived by all the rest, / Immediately drew me close, / And you understood that yearning / Was poisoning and stifling me. ...":

Jane Keyon translated many of her poems some of which I share below:

1.

Evening hours at the desk.

And a page irreparably white.

The mimosa calls up the heat of Nice,

A large bird flies in a beam of moonlight.

 

And having braided my hair carefully for the night

as if tomorrow braids will be necessary,

I look out the window, no longer sad,-

at the sea, the sandy slopes.

 

What power a man has

who doesn’t ask for tenderness!

I cannot lift my tired eyes

when he speaks my name.

(1913)

(I especially like the lines “what power a man has/ who doesn’t ask for tenderness!”)

 

The Guest

Everything’s just as it was: fine hard snow

beats against the dining room windows,

and I myself have not changed:

even so, a man came to call.

 

I asked him: “What do you want?”

He said, “To be with you in hell.”

I laughed: “It seems you see

plenty of trouble ahead for us both.”

 

But lifting his dry hand

he lightly touched the flowers.

“Tell me how they kiss you,

tell me how you kiss.”

 

And his half-closed eyes

remained on my ring.

Not even the smallest muscle moved

in his serenely angry face.

 

Oh, I know it fills him with joy-

this hard and passionate certainty

that there is nothing he needs,

and nothing I can keep from him.

(1914)

(The last two lines! )

 

15.

I hear the always-sad voice of the oriole

and I salute the passing of delectable summer.

With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.

 

And the hitched-up skirts of the slender reapers

fly in the wind like holiday flags. Now if only

we had the cheerful ring of harness bells,

a lingering glance through dusty eyelashes.

 

I don’t expect caresses or flattering love-talk,

I sense unavoidable darkness coming near,

but come and see the Paradise where together,

blissful and innocent, we once lived.

(1917)

 

(“With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.” ah, perfection!)

 

17.

Wild honey has the scent of freedom,

dust- of a ray of sun,

a girl’s mouth – of a violet,

and gold- has no perfume.

 

Watery- the mignonette,

and like an apple – love,

but we have found out forever

that blood smells only of blood

 

(Of course, I love this one. I have a soft spot for honeybees.)

 

The Domestic Church: Building a Modest Library

Every Catholic home should have a modest Catholic library. Here are some starters:

Most Catholics have heard of the newer “Catechism of the Catholic Church” but have not heard of  “The Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X” or “The Catechism of the Council of Trent” but these books are excellent resources and every Catholic home should have them! If you have children, The Baltimore Catechism is also a good resource.

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For Spiritual Reading I love Mary Agreda’s “Mystical City of God.” I do not have the complete set but I do have a selected edition called, “Divine Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary” which I can’t find anywhere but there are other abridgments available 

Mystical City of God ~ Mary of Agreda ~ The Mystical City of God: Life of the Virgin Mother of God, manifested to Sister Mary of Jesus of Agreda, 1602-1666 - Imprimatur H. J. Alerding, Bishop of Fort Wayne. Rome City, Ind., Aug. 24, 1912.:

St. Francis De Sales is one of my favorites and “Introduction to Devout life” is a Classic!

An Introduction to the Devout Life (Tan Classics) by St. ... http://www.amazon.com/dp/0895552280/ref=cm_sw_r_pi_dp_ZT-fxb0K2GSFH:

A good Latin/English Traditional Missal is a must. Whether you are able to attend a Traditional Latin Mass or not, it is filled with a wonderful treasury of prayers and  illuminations that uplift the soul. You can find older one’s on etsy. The one I have was my Great Aunt’s and it is beautiful!

Latin/ English Missal. Saint Paul Daily Missal. Hardcover 1960.

 

A Children’s Missal is also good to have. I love “Manner’s in God’s House First Prayers and First Missal” it is a charming classic:

 

The Secret of the Rosary” by St. Louse De Montfort is my favorite book on the rosary:

 

Of course, there are so many other great books out there but these are the ones I find myself coming back to again and again.

 

 

 

 

What We’re Reading

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The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris.

I just finished “The Quotidian Mysteries” by Kathleen Norris a Catholic Christian and a  Poetess. I had such high hopes! But was a little disappointed  by it. The little book is actually a lecture she gave in 1998 at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indaiana. It begins with reflections  on her first encounter of a Roman Catholic Mass. What struck her was the priest cleaning the chalice after Holy Communion. From there she  delves into the inescapable duties of daily life that even the Liturgy is bound to.

Of course, she identifies  herself as a feminist (what published poetess/authoress doesn’t these days?) and believes that the feminist movement has developed far enough that we can now admit to finding meaning in our daily work. A very naive view of feminism! But of course, no feminist would touch her or her ideas, they are too feminine. I also found her “calling” to barrenness  unsettling; All women are called to motherhood of some form even if they are barren.

That aside, the lecture was refreshing. Many of the poems, psalms, quotes, prayers referenced and her commentaries were very good and encouraging.

Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

“Owl at Home” is our favorite Arnold Lobel book. Great for beginner readers. It has five easy and interesting stories in it. “Tear-Water Tea” is rather a poetic little story and my favorite out of the five. We’ve been reading it daily for a week now. My girls insist upon it. The illustrations also by Arnold Lobel are endearing.